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PEDAR: Executive Summary First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Look at Their College Transcripts
First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Brief Portrait
Remedial Coursetaking
Undergraduate Major
Credits Earned
Coursetaking in Selected Areas
Postsecondary Performance
Factors Related to Degree Completion and Persistence
Research Methodology
Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)

Recent research has generated a large body of knowledge about students who are the first members of their families to attend college (referred to as “first-generation students” in this report).1 The results show that such students are at a distinct disadvantage in gaining access to postsecondary education. Even those who overcome the barriers and do enroll have difficulty remaining enrolled and attaining a degree (Horn and Nuñez 2000; Nuñez and Cuccaro-Alamin 1998; Warburton, Bugarin, and Nuñez 2001).

What has not been well studied, however, are the coursetaking experiences of first-generation students after entering college. What do first-generation students study in college? How well do they do in their coursework? Is their coursework different from that of their peers whose parents went to college? This report explores these questions by using data from the Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS) of the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) to examine the majors and coursetaking patterns of first-generation students and to compare their postsecondary experiences and outcomes with those of students whose parents went to college.2 This analysis focuses on a subset of the NELS 1992 12th-graders who had enrolled in postsecondary education between 1992 and 2000 and who also have complete postsecondary transcripts available; in addition, the analysis also required that parents’ education levels be reported. The findings of this study contribute to earlier research by distinguishing between first-generation students and their counterparts with respect to major fields of study chosen, the types of courses taken, amount of coursework completed, academic performance, and postsecondary outcomes. The major findings are summarized below.3

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